Strategy meetings are taking place almost on a daily basis at the private residence of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga on the progress of the political campaign of Maithripala Sirisena, the Common Candidate of the opposition.
At the strategy meetings, according to highly placed sources of the opposition, detailed PowerPoint presentation are being done with relevant statistics pertaining to the present campaign while analyzing its trajectory vis-à-vis the Presidential campaign in 2010- in which Former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka was the common candidate.
The leaders of the Common Opposition and other key figures who attend these meetings are of the views that the Common Candidate of the opposition stands a strong chance to win the presidential election which is taking place early next year. They believe that the popularity level of Maithripala Sirisena is higher than that of Sarath Fonseka when he contested the presidential election in 2010. Most importantly, Maithripala Sirisena, over the past few weeks, has earned some reputation as a candidate who speaks sensibly, without wagging a pestilent tongue at public forums and election meetings. All these factors, in more ways than one, contribute to the popularity of the Common Candidate who is waging a tough battle against a formidable opponent who still has a two thirds majority in the country’s legislature.
The major progress on the part of the common opposition during the first week of his election campaign was taking an early lead in the propaganda war – which plays an important role when determining the final result of the election.
At the outset, the opposition was making headlines in the mainstream media every single day, putting the government and its propaganda mechanism on the backfoot. However, the government did not take a long time to understand this “ball game” and bounce back with vigour. The government started the headline-making game with the sudden crossover of former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake. Just a few days later, the government pulled off another miracle by separating JHU Deputy General Secretary Udaya Gammanpila from his party- of which he was a founding member. The impact of the opposition’s early lead in headline-making game was mitigated – to a great extent – by propaganda strategists of the government with those moves.
However, the crossovers have now lost their significance in the political sphere as became more familiar with such unexpected developments. At this stage, the most important ‘weapon’ in the arsenal of the opposition is the crowd-support for Maithripala Sirisena. It is quite apparent that the leaders of the common opposition are upbeat over the large number of people who attend the rallies of Maithripala Sirisena. But, the flip side of this matter is that they tend to get carried away with this success, without devising a comprehensive plan to cash in on it.
“Crowd-support does not translate into votes automatically. It is good that a large number of people are attending the rallies of Maithripala Sirisena on a daily basis. But, it is equally important to make sure that each and every person attending the meetings of Maithripala walks into the polling booth on the Election Day to vote for him! Sometimes people gather out of sheer curiosity. Sometimes, they gather at meetings to see what’s going on… There should be plan address every one of them, personally. That is where ground level activities such as house to house campaigns come into play,” a political analyst who is affiliated with the opposition said on Sunday.
Absence of a Comprehensive Village level Campaign
It is certainly a positive sign that the Common Candidate of the opposition is focusing a lot on outstation election meetings, without confining himself to main cities. But, the problem is there is no real plan on the part of the common opposition to launch a comprehensive house to house campaign using the ground level machinery of the party. They have to come to terms with the fact that President Mahinda Rajapaksa still holds an edge over Maithripala Sirisena in the absence of a comprehensive village level campaign to support the opposition’s common candidate.
This is one area where former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake’s exit would affect the party. Atanayake was the only person in the top-rung leadership of the party who was aware of the ground-level machinery of the UNP. He was in full control of ground-level mechanism and had an in-depth understanding of its operations. On the other hand, Attanayake’s background gave him an edge over others to successfully deal with village level matters and the ground-level machinery. In that sense, Attanayake’s exit was a serious damage to the party and it left a gap that could not be bridged easily. Although UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa brags about his vote-base in the grassroots level is not in a position to lead an island wide campaign with the support of the village level machinery of the party.
The UNP strategists have understood that the collective middle class vote, at this stage, has turned in favour of Maithripala Sirisena. What they haven’t realized so far is the importance of turning village level votes which is the biggest strength of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The village level votes will only come is there is a campaign to address them on an individual basis. That is exactly what the campaign of Maithripala Sirisena is lacking at the moment.
(Rasika Jayakody-Asian Mirror)